July 1, 2008
DURHAM Kevin White said all the right things when he was introduced as Duke's new athletic director.
"There's an interesting set of challenges and opportunities here that got me really excited," White said. "The skill set that I bring to this is probably in line with those respective challenges and opportunities. That's exciting to me. And to do it in an environment like this, this is a world-class institution with high aspirations athletically. It really doesn't get any better than this."
That's nice, but White never addressed the really burning question: Why would he leave Notre Dame and the nation's most prestigious football program (even if it is in a slump) for Duke, which has been the nation's most downtrodden BCS program over the last decade?
Several insiders have indicated that White was frustrated by friction with the Notre Dame Board of Trustees. He was overruled in 2005 when he opposed the firing of head football coach Tyrone Willingham before the end of his contract and again a year later, when after one promising season the trustees offered new coach Charlie Weis a 10-year contract.
White will have more flexibility to run the Duke program. He inherits a 26-sport department that actually has a slightly bigger budget ($47.4 million in 2007, the last reported year) than the one he left at Notre Dame ($44.5 million). Duke (No. 11) also finished higher than the Irish (No. 22) in the most recent Directors Cup, which measures overall athletic success.
In fact, Duke has been the top-ranked Division I school in the nation each of the last three years in the National Collegiate Scouting Association's Power Rankings, which combine a school's Directors Cup finish, athletic graduation rates and academic ranking in U.S. News and World Report.
Duke's new AD has a good reputation as a fundraiser and as a manager. He has an MBA and taught classes at Notre Dame's business school. But, clearly, his greatest task will be to help revive the Blue Devils' struggling football program. White suggested that the first key steps in that direction were taken before his arrival.
"Football at Duke, we've got to find a way to get the program back to where it was a number of years ago too long ago," White said. "The first step, the right step, was to hire a high-quality coach ... that has a great Duke fit, and that's David Cutcliffe. I think we're all going to help David. David isn't going to be able to do it himself. That's my job, and everybody else's job at the university."
White's primary task will be to implement Duke's Strategic Plan for Athletics, a scheme that was adopted by the Duke trustees last spring. It outlines the steps Duke football needs to take to become competitive on the field again.
"I think the Duke football future is awfully bright," White said, "but it's going to take a lot of attention, a lot of hard work."
A less immediate, but maybe more important, job will be to hire a replacement for basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski. The Blue Devil coach re-assured Duke fans recently that he's not planning retirement any time soon. Still, the Hall of Fame coach is 61 years old and will be stepping down closer to the near, not the far, future.
Krzyzewski had indicated in the past that he would suggest associate head coach Johnny Dawkins as his successor. When Dawkins was introduced this spring as the new head coach at Stanford, Cardinal athletic director Bob Bowlsby suggested that his new coach was first in line to succeed Coach K.
But Krzyzewski insisted that there was no succession plan in place.
"Whoever will take over after I finish coaching here, that will be a decision that will be made at that time," he said.
Furthermore, he does not plan to handpick his successor.
"No one should be able to name their successor," he said, adding, "I hope I have some input."
And what will that input be?
"I would think somebody who had been here as a player or as a coach should be that person," he said. "You should run that race a little bit more before running a different horse."
Sooner or later, the responsibility for replacing Krzyzewski is likely to fall on White. When that happens, it will be interesting to keep an eye on Notre Dame coach Mike Brey.
White hired the former Krzyzewski assistant at South Bend (and Brey's endorsement had a lot to do with winning Krzyzewski over to the selection of White at Duke). Not only does Brey still have a strong friendship with Duke's new AD, but he would seem to meet Krzyzewski's criteria for a successor.
Dawkins certainly remains in the picture, too, although his chances will depend heavily on what level of success he manages to achieve at Stanford before Krzyzewski's retirement.
COURT FINDS FOOTBALL WOEFUL
Duke won a recent legal victory in a lawsuit brought by Louisville, which wanted the Blue Devils to pay a $450,000 penalty for opting out of the final three years of a four-year contract with the Cardinals.
Duke lost the first game in the proposed series 40-3 in 2002. The contract called for games in 2007, 2008 and 2009. It included a penalty clause of $150,000 per game if Louisville could not find a "suitable replacement" for any games canceled. Louisville replaced Duke with I-AA Indiana State last season.
Franklin (Ky.) Circuit Court judge Phillip J. Shepherd agreed with Duke's lawyers that any opponent from Division I football would be a suitable replacement because the Blue Devil football program is so bad.
"At oral argument, Duke persuasively asserted that this is a threshold that could not be any lower," the judge ruled. "Duke's argument on this point cannot be reasonably disputed by Louisville."
Shepherd dismissed Louisville's lawsuit, giving Duke a welcome but embarrassing victory.
BOOZER JOINS OLYMPIC SQUAD
Former Duke big man Carlos Boozer was one of three former ACC players to make the 2008 U.S. Olympic basketball team that was selected in June, along with Georgia Tech's Chris Bosh and Wake Forest's Chris Paul.
Boozer, who played for the Blue Devils from 2000-02 and was a member of the school's 2001 national championship team, will be one of three post players on the team, along with Orlando's Dwight Howard and Toronto's Bosh.
Boozer, who was a member of the U.S. bronze medal Olympic team in 2004, is one of nine Duke grads to play in the Olympics. Jeff Mullins (1964), Tate Armstrong (1976), Christian Laettner (1992) and Grant Hill (1996) all won gold medals for the United States. Three ex-Duke players played in the Games for Canada: Cameron Hall (1976), Dan Meagher (1984) and Greg Newton (2000). Crawford Palmer played for France (2000).
Krzyzewski, the head coach of this year's U.S. team, was an assistant under Chuck Daly for the original "Dream Team" in 1992.